Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thinking About Photography and Death in the 1980s

Fascination (Jonathan)
ca. 1983
photograph by Mark Morrisroe

"All those young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know that they are agents of Death. This is the way in which our time assumes Death: with the denying alibi of the distractedly "alive," of which the Photographer is in a sense the professional. For Photography must have some historical relation with what Edgar Morin calls the "crisis of death" beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century; for my part I should prefer that instead of constantly relocating the advent of Photography in its social and economic context, we should also inquire as to the anthropological place of Death and of the new image. For Death must be somewhere in a society; if it is no longer (or less intensely) in religion, it must be elsewhere; perhaps in this image which produces Death while trying to preserve life. Contemporary with the withdrawal of rites, Photography may correspond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic Death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into Death. Life / Death: the paradigm is reduced to a simple click, the one separating the initial pose from the final print."

"Earlier societies managed so that memory, the substitute for life, was eternal and that at least the thing which spoke Death should itself be immortal: this was the Monument. But by making the (mortal) Photograph into the general and somehow natural witness of "what has been," modern society has renounced the Monument. A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotenceto be no longer able to conceive duration, affectively or symbolically: the age of the Photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatience, of everything which denies ripening. And no doubt, the astonishment of "that-has-been" will also disappear. It has already disappeared: I am, I don't know why, one of its last witnesses (a witness of the Inactual), and this book is its archaic trace."

 Roland Barthes, from La Chambre Claire, published in 1980 (also the year in which Barthes died)  the book was translated by Richard Howard and published in English as Camera Lucida in 1981.

More below from Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989)  a young photographer 'determined upon the capture of actuality' who remained hard at work in the world until his AIDS death in 1989.